Fcc vs. hcp competition in colloidal hard-sphere nucleation: on their relative stability, interfacial free energy and nucleation rate

I Sanchez-Burgos and E Sanz and C Vega and JR Espinosa, PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 23, 19611-19626 (2021).

DOI: 10.1039/d1cp01784e

Hard-sphere crystallization has been widely investigated over the last six decades by means of colloidal suspensions and numerical methods. However, some aspects of its nucleation behaviour are still under debate. Here, we provide a detailed computational characterisation of the polymorphic nucleation competition between the face-centered cubic (fcc) and the hexagonal-close packed (hcp) hard-sphere crystal phases. By means of several state-of-the-art simulation techniques, we evaluate the melting pressure, chemical potential difference, interfacial free energy and nucleation rate of these two polymorphs, as well as of a random stacking mixture of both crystals. Our results highlight that, despite the fact that both polymorphs have very similar stability, the interfacial free energy of the hcp phase could be marginally higher than that of the fcc solid, which in consequence, mildly decreases its propensity to nucleate from the liquid compared to the fcc phase. Moreover, we analyse the abundance of each polymorph in grown crystals from different types of inserted nuclei: fcc, hcp and stacking disordered fcc/hcp seeds, as well as from those spontaneously emerged from brute force simulations. We find that post-critical crystals fundamentally grow maintaining the polymorphic structure of the critical nucleus, at least until moderately large sizes, since the only crystallographic orientation that allows stacking close-packed disorder is the fcc (111) plane, or equivalently the hcp (0001) one. Taken together, our results contribute with one more piece to the intricate puzzle of colloidal hard-sphere crystallization.

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